Last Thursday’s Hastings District Council meeting provided a textbook civics lesson at several levels.

At issue was lowering the speed limit for St. Andrew’s Road.

Council staff, following the rulebook, recommended a 80kph limit (down from 100). Council staff was backed by a rulebook-waving representative of Land Transport.

[The staff’s formula: 2X +5Y – 3Z * Q (the number of cracks in the road per km) – 2 = 80kph]

The residents of the road overwhelmingly petitioned for a 70 kph limit. Their case was presented so cogently by spokesman J. Konig that only the village idiot could possibly have resisted.

[The residents’ case: We use the road 24*7*365 in fear of a tragic accident + and we vote = 70kph]

Ultimately Councillors, with Mayor Yule and Councillors Bowers, Williams and Heaps leading the revolt (abetted by interpreter Mike McGuire), rejected the bureaucrats and voted unanimously for a 70kph limit. Bravo!

The lessons:

1. Citizens who take the time to organize and assert their case can prevail.

2. The bureaucrats work for the elected representatives, not the other way around. The elected reps are expected to make judgment calls that rule-bound bureaucrats seem incapable of. In this case, the bureaucrats seemed to value more as stakeholders the occasional wandering driver rather than the residents actually coping with dangerous speeds day in and day out. In a situation like this, who is the speed limit supposed to protect, after all?!

3. The Mayor and his Councillors always have the choice about what precedence to give public submissions as they consider public matters. As Mayor Yule and several Councillors noted explicitly, what ‘s the point of asking for public submissions if we’re going to ignore them?

In this case, with all due respect to the bravado displayed on the speed limit, the choice was a no-brainer. Any politician faced with choosing between a virtually unanimous constituency versus a handful of staff has a rather easy choice on his or her hands … as the final vote indicated!

But as the unfinished Ocean Beach saga illustrates, it gets a little dodgy if the choice is between a multitude of average citizens and the development machine.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see displayed the same courage on the part of our elected officials — and eagerness to follow the clear direction of submissions — the next time Ocean Beach is on the agenda?

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